Saturday, 29 November 2008

Natural World: Cheeky Monkeys

You simply have to get onto the iPlayer and watch Natural World's Cheeky Monkey episode Clever Monkeys!

Narrated by David Attenborough, this Natural World gem intends to explore how monkeys throughout the world should challenge our perceptions of what it is to be human.
From our ability to hold images in our minds to our capacity for language, it seems that somewhere in the world one of our cousins will have mastered the same!

Some astonishing stories have been dug up here from the Marmosets farming sap from trees to the White-faced capuchins cracking clams open and using their tails as sponges to soak up rainwater from inside tree trunks.

There is also some world class footage from close-up facial expressions to stunning wide angle views, and the first few minutes' editing and music build a wonderful cheeky start to the programme.

I do have to note that there are occasional over-anthropomorphic assumptions made. I did find myself grinding my teeth as some very selective editing suggested that a group of macaques were feeling sad at the loss of their leader, and I found myself very grumpy with Mr. Attenborough when he suggested that a "clever" monkey had mastered the lie when in fact he was most likely merely mastering a situation of cause and effect.

No great conclusions should be made about monkey "intelligence" from the programme but it is fantastically researched and really delightful to watch. A valuable addition to the NHU archives, so long as the BBC sell it for what it is: a lovely collection of interesting behaviours and a glimpse of how some of our great accomplishments as humans might have began.

Natural World's Clever Monkeys, first broadcast on BBC2, is available to view online until Tues December 16th and was co-produced by the BBC and Thirteen/WNET New York.

Related posts: Oceans Outrage, Killer Whales in the UK?, Wildscreen


Anonymous said...

It was an interesting programme. You're right about the inherent anthropomorphism.

But the examples of monkeys using tools - and particularly those at the end of the show, throwing rocks and causing landslips to scare off a big cat - seemed pretty impressive.

Samantha Dixon said...

Again a punctilious scientist will attribute these behaviours to a chance discovery that pushing rocks means the predator goes away.

The theory of mind debate is a hugely contraversial and fascinating one!

It's almost impossible to prove real intelligence - most scientists work with the rule that an animal must be seen to work something out first time (a tall order) or must be seen to apply a concept to a new and different situation. For example, if the monkeys were to apply the same tool ideas to something other than food i.e. something with a different reward, it might prove they had mastered the concept and not just the cause and effect.

Anonymous said...

HI, i really like the music in this can u tell me who it is by and what it is called. Thankyou

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